Review of Those Above – Book 1 of The Empty Throne series by Daniel Polansky

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I have only recently finished reading the final book charting the career of the awesome Warden in She Who Waits – see my review here – so was delighted to discover this latest slice of Polansky magic. Would I find this new epic fantasy as riveting?

thoseaboveTall, strong, perfect – for three thousand years Those Above have ruled over their human subjects. From the glittering aplaces of their eternal city they enforce their will with fire and sword. Twenty-five years ago mankind mustered an army and rose up against them, only to be slaughtered in a terrible battle. Hope died that day, but hatred survived. Whispers of another revolt are beginning to stir in the hearts of the oppressed: a personal servant who owes her whole existence to the perfect being she serves: a woman widowed in the war, who has dedicated her life to revenge: a general, the only man to ever defeat one of Those Above in single combat, summoned forth to raise a new legion: and a boy-killer who rises from the gutter to lead an uprising in the capital.

As you may have gathered from the blurb, this is a four-handed narrative in third person – a contrast to the first person immediacy we got with the Warden’s narrative of his struggles to prevail in Low Town.

First, the good news. The world is well depicted – Polansky has plenty of detail and enjoyable touches. My personal favourite, Eudokia, the political mistress who has risen through to prominence by using her cleverness and wealth has some delicious moments that teeter on the edge of farce. Each character is strongly contrasting with the other protagonists – no chance of getting any of these muddled – and their motivations are well described, while their individual narratives within the story are ably charted.

However, much of the magic that makes the Low Town novels so outstanding isn’t here. Polansky isn’t a particularly snappy writer – the Warden spends a fair amount of time musing about all sorts of stuff. What kept me turning the pages was the wonderful voice that bounced off the page. With four protagonists all in third person viewpoint, the same leisurely approach means that for all the intriguing premise, the pacing felt too slow. There was an awful lot of ‘tell’, as opposed to ‘show’ which silted up the characterisation and had each of them feeling a tad flat. I also very much missed the humour that ran through the Low Town books.

This isn’t a bad book – if it had been, I wouldn’t have finished it, and I certainly wouldn’t be reviewing it. The score is a perfectly respectable one and I will be keeping an eye out for the next in the series.
7/10

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2 responses »

  1. Nice job with a fair review, Sarah. I haven’t read any of Polansky’s work yet; and while the cover of Those Above is a thing of beauty, I’m not sure I’d want to read the book. What other novels has Polansky written?

  2. Thank you for taking the time to comment, Sara:) For my money, his Low Town trilogy featuring the Warden, with ‘The Straight Razor Cure’ – called ‘Low Town’ in some countries – is outstanding. What I do find intriguing, is that people who were underwhelmed by the Low Town series are raving about this one… Just goes to show how subjective this reading lark is…

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